Ordinarily, a projection system forecasting a 22-win jump would be cause for celebration. That’s enough of a leap to make a good team godly, an okay team elite, or a bad team great. For the Tigers, however, a 22-win leap would only take them from abysmal to awful.
Detroit won 47 games in 2019, their worst year since the infamous 2003 season. There’s even an argument that last year’s team was the worst Detroit had ever fielded in their 119-year history as their Pythagorean winning percentage was one point worse than in 2003.
Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA currently has the Tigers winning 69 games in 2020, but it’s important to remember that PECOTA is being conservative. It’s regressing to the mean. Just as PECOTA won’t ever project a team to break the single-season win total, it also won’t peg a team as one of the worst to ever call themselves a major league baseball team. A 69-win projection, then, is generous.
If you’re not a Tigers fan and you came here looking for reasons why you should care about what happens in Detroit this year, there’s not much to say. There are two questions about the 2020 Detroit Tigers: (1) Will they trade Matthew Boyd? (2) Will Casey Mize or Matt Manning show up? For everything else, there are more important concerns.
The Tigers are the least interesting team in baseball. They’re not exactly plucky underdogs, and until Mize or Manning show up, they don’t have any players who are must-see. The team isn’t even uniquely terrible. They were historically putrid in 2019, but PECOTA projects the Orioles, Royals, Mariners, and Giants to be just as bad or worse in 2020.
The Tigers also don’t make good heels since there’s no drama surrounding the team. They’re not caught up in a scintillating cheating scandal like the Astros. They’re not antagonizing their superstar third baseman like the Cubs or the Rockies. If the Tigers traded their best player this year, no one write a column lambasting them like they would the Red Sox. They don’t even draw as much ire for tanking as Bob Nutting’s Pirates because at least the Tigers have spent in the past.
Of the 30 MLB teams, you’ll spend the least amount of time thinking about the Tigers, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about them at all. Those two questions are good ones. This is Matthew Boyd’s first year of arbitration eligibility, and he won’t be a free agent until 2023. His ERA was bloated and he had some issues with the long ball, but Boyd ranked eighth in baseball in strikeout-minus-walk percentage. Among pitchers with at least 150 innings over the last two seasons, Boyd had the second-largest jump in swinging strike percentage from 2018-2019, trailing only Lucas Giolito.
Boyd’s trade value will never be higher, and the prospects of the Tigers being good again before he reaches free agency appear grim. Even with Manning and Mize up and fully weaponized, the Tigers would still need a completely overhauled offense to think about competing.
Beyond Riley Greene and Isaac Paredes, there’s a dearth of offense in their pitching-heavy farm system. Flipping Boyd for a couple of bats would do more to get the Tigers back to contention than keeping him on the hopes that Jeimer Candelario, Niko Goodrum, and whatever mercenaries they pick up in the next three years can coalesce into a competent offense. The farm can replace the loss of Boyd. It likely won’t produce a team that can hit.
It would be a shame if, in the coming years, the Tigers couldn’t muster enough run support for Casey Mize and Matt Manning. While other teams might be championing Tarik Skubal, a promising player in his own right, as their best pitching prospect, Detroit has the privilege of arguing over whether Manning or Mize is actually their best and both place in the top 25 at FanGraphs, Baseball America, and MLB Pipeline.
The bad news is that we’ll likely have to wait until next year to see much of Mize and Manning. Neither have thrown a pitch in Triple-A, and while it’s certainly possible that at least one of them could fit into the rotation now, the Tigers have no reason to start their service time clocks. If either makes it to the majors this year, it certainly won’t be on the Opening Day roster.
There will be a day when the Detroit Tigers are laying waste to the league with their legion of pitching demigods, but that day is not this day nor any other in 2020. The Tigers are still partly boring and mostly bad. Until Boyd is traded or Mize and Manning come up, you don’t have to think about the Tigers anymore. Congratulations. You’re free.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.